The deepest darkest corners of Netflix's streaming service hide the controversial films you won't see on the site's playful front page. People may be surprised, but Netflix has a large amount of these types of movies, from grisly true-life thrillers to sexually promiscuous romps and everything inbetween. We've dug deep and uncovered the five most controversial films on the streamer.
What makes a film controversial, exactly? There are many factors. Bad press, for one, is the easiest way to identify a controversial film. Scandalous press, on the other hand, is the most sensational. Movies that deal in taboo subjects are always targeted by conservative complainers who blame art for society's woes. Art is a reflection of society and, while it can be influential, it's as old as civilization itself. Pushing the boundaries of art is the only way to advance it.
With movies from directors like Alfonso Cuarón, Lars Von Trier, and Gaspar Noé, Netflix has lured foreign audiences by refusing to strictly cater to American inclinations of what makes a worthy film. And for good reason, Americans are overwhelmingly sheltered when it comes to controversy in cinema. Ratings are a means to "save the children" but they're window dressing in many ways. There shouldn't be rules to what makes a movie. The MPAA is an antiquated institution that brands censorship as protection while judging violence less harshly than sex. You want to make a controversial film? Make a sex-filled one, not a violent one.
So if American audiences are sheltered, the hope is this article will open some eyes. The film industry is an ocean and there are movies out there that will shock you. Here are a few of them. These aren't recommendations, per se, but more a menu of some of Netflix's most controversial movies. Watch them at your own peril.
[Editor's note: Selections are taken from the American Netflix menu. Apologies if any aren't available in your area.]
1. 'Christine' (2016)
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons
The true story of local Sarasota television personality Christine Chubbock, who committed suicide live on the air in 1974, was initially dismissed by her relatives as "exploitative" and too focused on the negative aspects of Christine's life. However, watching the movie, it's clear the focus is trying to understand why Christine, a lovelorn workaholic who was frustrated on the job, would go to such lengths to prove a point. Before she pulled out a gun and shot herself, she told the camera, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide."
2. 'Blue Is the Warmest Colour' (2013)
Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux
"Although Blue is the Warmest Color has polarized festival audiences with its frank and intensely graphic sex scenes, the hope is it will be remembered more for catapulting the careers of its two leading ladies, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. The two actresses give themselves completely to director Abdellatif Kechiche, and to us, minds, bodies, and souls." That was from my review of this film in 2013. I thought it was one of the best movies of the year. It's the only comic book adaptation to ever win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
However, subsequent revelations by the two lead actresses have cast controversy on the movie and caused me to see it in a new light. The "intensely graphic sex scenes" include one that's over seven-minutes long and Exarchopoulos and Seydoux both described filming it as "horrible." It took ten days to shoot so imagine over 12 hours on a film set every day, naked, with a male director telling you how to have sex. Seydoux said the scene left her "feeling like a prostitute." The stars' remarks then set off a war in the press with Kechiche, who defended himself by attacking the actresses.
3. 'The Interview' (2014)
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang
This movie caused major ruckus when it was announced, never mind released. The comedy finds buddies James Franco as a star reporter and Seth Rogen as his producer on a mission to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. It's a complete goof, but the North Koreans weren't happy about being portrayed as comic foils. They don't have much of a sense of humor about these things over there. Their government promised "stern" and "merciless" retaliation if it was shown, even writing to President Obama to have it shelved. Sony Pictures Entertainment responded by delaying the premiere and making changes. In the meantime, Sony was hacked and thousands of internal emails and documents were made public. The wide release was canceled and the film was eventually put out on VOD. It never ran in theaters.
4. 'Y Tu Mamá También' (2001)
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal
Luisa (Verdú), jilted by her husband, takes a road trip with two horny teenagers (future stars Bernal and Luna) to a secret beach where they, inevitably, have tons of sex. Director Alfonso Cuarón's modern classic is an all-time road movie set against Mexico's political and economic realities of the time. It's a film about escape, about growing up, and about sex, above all. Of course, that's all anyone talked about.
The explicit sex scenes in the film were bound to cause controversy. The older woman/younger male dynamic always does. But Cuarón fought for his movie when the Mexican Directorate of Radio, Television, and Cinema stamped it 18+. The filmmaker called it censorship.
5. 'White Girl' (2016)
Starring: Morgan Saylor, Brian Marc, India Menuez, Adrian Martinez, Anthony Ramos, Chris Noth, Justin Bartha
Compared in some circles upon its release to Larry Clark and Harmony Korine's seminal 1995 film Kids, White Girl is certainly one of the most explicit films about teen sex in recent years. However, it was the star of the movie who made people sit up and take notice.
Set in New York City, the movie follows Leah (Morgan Saylor, looking to destroy her squeaky-clean Homeland image) and her best friend as they start college in their first apartment. The girls quickly become enamored with a few of the neighborhood tough guys and are soon having wild sex and blowing coke every night with them. Leah, meanwhile, performs fellatio on her boss during her first week at a new job and carries on sexual relationships with multiple partners throughout the film. There were rumors some of the sex acts depicted were real, but that is unverified. Director Elizabeth Wood spoke to Vogue about the authentic scenes:
"...When we were filming these scenes, I felt sick to my stomach. People would tap me on the shoulder and say, Okay, that’s enough, say cut. I’d say, You know what? I feel so uncomfortable. But the fact that everyone is starting to squirm, I think that means we’re onto something. Those takes would be two, three, four minutes long. But it was the end we would use, when it would start feeling really real."